Trout vs. Cabrera (part 2????)

Posted: 08/15/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

It’s really a shame that the two best players in baseball (by far) are both in the American League, because yet again, one of them won’t get the recognition they deserve. I’m talking, of course, about Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Last year, Cabrera won the MVP because he won the triple crown, and because he played on a better team than Trout. However, baseball’s new age, SABR metric community backed Trout, due to the value he added in defense and baserunning- Trout had a WAR (wins above replacement, courtesy of Fangraphs) of 10.0, and Cabrera had a WAR of 6.9. This wasn’t just a simple conversation; it was a battle between classes of baseball, and traditionalism won out.

Let me just start by saying that if Trout lost last year, it is unlikely that he will win this year, even though he has been even better. This is still a fascinating debate, though.

Note: all SABR stats come from fangraphs, and not baseball reference.

Cabrera’s 2012 season vs. his 2013 season:
Last year, Miguel Cabrera became the first player to win the triple crown since Carl Yastremski, and led the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. His traditional stats looked like this: .330 average, 44 homers, 139 RBI. His SABR stats looked like this: 9.5 walk %, 14.1 strikeout %, .277 ISO power (which is just slugging percentage minus batting average), .417 w/OBA (sort of like OPS, but more exact, as it values OBP higher than SLG, as it should), 166 w/RC+ (runs created compared to league average). Those are all great numbers. The reason his WAR was just 6.9, 7th in the MLB, is he cost his team a lot of runs due to poor fielding and base running.

Now check out Cabrera’s traditional stats this year: .360 average, 38 homers, 114 RBI. He might not win the triple crown this year, but that’s just because Chris Davis has had a huge power surge this year. His on-pace numbers look like this: .360 average, 51 homers, 154 RBI. Those are all-time great numbers.
Here are Miggy’s SABR stats this season: BB%- 14, K%- 14.5, .325 ISO, .477 w/OBA, 207 w/RC+. He has a 7.4 WAR, so is on pace to just top the 10 WAR mark. Obviously, Cabrera has been much better this season. He leads the AL in walk percentage, is second in ISO power, and leads the MLB- by far, in weighted OBA and weighted runs created. Cabrera hasn’t been a liability when it comes to running the bases this year, but he has continued to be a huge defensive liability, which is the reason he is still behind Trout in terms of WAR.

Trout’s 2012 season vs. his 2013 season:
Last year, Trout had one of the best seasons for a 20 year old EVER, if not the best. He hit .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBI (mostly out of the leadoff spot), and 49 steals. His 10 WAR was a product of his all around play. He hit well, but he was also a tremendous fielder (second most value added defensively among centerfielders behind Michael Bourn) and base runner (by far the most value added in the MLB, due in large part to his 49 steals versus being caught five times). His SABR stats last season: BB%- 10.5, K- 21.8, .238 ISO, .409 w/OBA, 167 w/RC+. All good stats, but not nearly at Cabrera’s level (again, Trout only finished three wins above Miggy last year because of fielding and base running). Especially worrying was his K/BB ratio, which was nearly 2:1.

Like Cabrera, Trout has been much better this season, in his age 21 season (he turned 22 earlier this month). He’s hitting .330 with 21 homers and 78 RBI, to go along with 27 steals. He’s on pace to hit 28 homers to go along with 115 runs scored, 105 RBI and 36 steals. Those numbers don’t look that much better than last season, but his OPS is 35 points higher this season, mostly because he is walking a lot more and is on pace for 45 doubles and 11 triples (last year he had 27 and eight, respectively). And his SABR stats: BB%- 13.4, K%- 17.1, .243 ISO, .425 w/OBA, 178 w/RC+. So he is striking out meaningfully less and walking meaningfully more, which is a great sign for his future; he has shown the ability to correct any small weaknesses (are there any weaknesses left?) His WAR is 8.0, and is on pace to finish with a WAR at about 11. It could be in the 9-10 range right now, but his fielding hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year.

Now, Enough With the Stats:
All those stats are great, but they only go so far. Which player deserves the MVP? Well last year, I thought Trout should have won (and wrote about it). This year, it isn’t quite so clear. Cabrera has been astronomically better than he was last season, and is having an all-time year. He’s on pace to hit .360 with 51 homers and 154 RBI. The only other players to hit .350 with 50 homers and 150 RBI? Babe Ruth did it twice, and Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson did it once. That’s it. He also plays on a division leading team, while Trout’s team is floundering at 12 games under .500.
That’s why I’m giving Cabrera the edge this year, even if he doesn’t win the triple crown (he is six homers behind Chris Davis, who is a streaky hitter, so don’t count Miggy out).

They are both AMAZING:
Cabrera might end up as the best right handed hitter of all time. In fact, ESPN’s Jayson Stark looks into that more here.

Trout looks to have locked up back-to-back 10 WAR seasons, barring a collapse or an injury. Only eight players have EVER done that.

So both of these players are well on their way to being all-time greats. If only they were not in the same league.

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